Christopher Penczak may be the most prolific contemporary Pagan author. With almost 20 books to his credit, Penczak has published texts that cover a wide range of topics from gay witchcraft to Reiki to establishing a relationship with plant spirits. Of course, he is best known for the Temple of Witchcraft series, which presents the training system for the tradition of the same name that he co-founded.
One of Penczak’s talents is to synthesize a wealth of information from a wide variety of esoteric sources into a unified, coherent system. This is exactly what he does in his newest book, The Gates of Witchcraft: Twelve Paths of Power, Trance, and Gnosis. Starting with a foundation in British Traditional Wicca, indeed in Gardner’s Book of Shadows, Pencak fleshes out Gardner’s original list of consciousness-changing techniques and adds new paths, all the while folding in techniques with roots in everything from the Northern Seidr to entheogens to sacred sexuality.
As a member of the Temple of Witchcraft, I don’t usually review Penczak’s books. However, this book is a fantastic foundational book for Pagans of all paths and experience levels, that I felt it was important to discuss it here. So rather than review the book, I thought I’d let the author speak for himself. Last week, I interviewed Christopher about his new offering. His thoughts tell the story of his book better than I ever could:
Q: What was your inspiration for The Gates of Witchcraft?
CP: The core of the idea comes from the British Traditional Wicca Book of Shadows, a section known as the Eight Ways of Raising Power, or Eight Ways to the Center. It is a section on different methods of entering trance and/or raising power for rituals. I was fascinated by the list, but found some of the groupings confusing. I reworked in specifically focusing upon trance, and added four more paths, making twelve in all.
Q: Could you describe the book in your own words and give us a basic overview of the 12 paths?
CP: The Gates of Witchcraft is a manual for magically oriented people to explore many different methods of trance, from the exhibitory and exciting methods that raise our body’s systems to the more inhibitory techniques that lower our bodily systems and relax us. The techniques include meditation, breath work, sound, movement, isolation, plant substances, sexuality, ordeals, ritual clothing, sacred space, sacred time and dreams.
Q: Our readers are on a variety of paths and may not identify as Witches, How can your book be an aid to Pagans and magick workers of other paths other than Witchcraft?
CP: While its drawn from the traditions of British Traditional Wicca, and my own experience and work is oriented towards teaching those who identify as Witches, it might be more suited for those who identify as practicing a magickal spirituality. I think anyone on a Pagan, Ceremonial Magician, or Shamanic Path might benefit from it. In fact, I think even those in other more broad traditions, practicing martial arts, yoga, tantra, herbalism and even other communities not specifically metaphysical, such as the BDSM, might find it interesting.
Q: Meditation and breath both hold a strong place in your work. Which of the techniques were more out of your comfort zone?
CP: I think the isolation and ordeal paths were more out of my comfort zone at least in terms of writing. I’ve done some isolation rituals for my own personal practice and helped others with them, but haven’t written much or done any formal teaching on them. I am not a British Traditional Wicca initiate, and while I think the “properly prepared” section of ritual binding and scourging in initiation was important to include, it is not my own initiatory experience.
Q: In the book you present a large selection of techniques. It can be hard to know where to start. How would you suggest that people begin to explore the 12 Gates?
CP: I wrote them starting with the most simple and most safe, and progressed to the more difficulty and potentially dangerous, at least for the first few. I suggest meditation, breath work, sound and movement as the starting places. Each chapter ,too, starts with more basic exercises and becomes more complex by the end of the chapter.
Q: You quote Gardner’s book of shadows, which proclaims “the more the better.” How would you suggest incorporating multiple paths into one ritual without losing focus.
CP: The very last chapter gives some creative examples of uniting several paths in one working. I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?
Q: How do you utilize the 12 Gates in your own practice? Which are more foundational for you? Are there any that you choose not to enter?
CP: Many of them are a fundamental part of my daily meditation practice, or monthly ritual practice. Meditation, breath work, sound and movement/posture or staples for my solitary work. I am a big believer in plant magick and plant trance, but don’t use that path daily, with perhaps the exception of incense for meditation and ritual. Entheogenic rituals are used to punctuate important workings, not a regular practice for me. As a Witch, Sacred space and sacred time are an important part of my ritual practice. Sexuality is a part of my spirituality, but not always in a ritualized way. Like plant trance, it is for a special occasion ritually. I am also very fond of dream magick and trance as of late. I don’t use the isolation or ordeal paths that often, but its nice to know how to play that card when I need it.
The Gates of Witchcraft truly presents a dizzying array of trance and consciousness changing techniques. It can be so easy to get stuck with just a few ritual favorites, but this book offers a wide variety of new paths to experiment with in order to perfectly fit the work you are doing. It is now available on Amazon or on the author’s own site. Whichever Gate you prefer, Penczak’s new book can help you find your key.